Soriano-Meier, H., Forrester, P., Garza-Reyes, J. A., Peacock, T. and Rocha-Lona, L. (2009) Soft investment: lean versus traditional plants. Paper presented to: 19th International Conference on Flexible Automation and Intelligent Manufacturing (FAIM 2009), School of Science & Technology, University of Teesside, Middlesbrough, 6 - 8 July 2009.
Soriano-Meier, H., Forrester, P., Garza-Reyes, J. A., Peacock, T. and Rocha-Lona, L.
Lean production comprises a set of different tools geared towards the elimination of all operations that do not add value to a product, service or process, thereby increasing the value of each activity and removing all that is not required. An essential part of lean production is training and education. Training and educating the workforce (what we refer here as “soft investment”) will create the necessary conditions to engage and involve employees in improvement activities, so are indispensable in the implementation of lean production. The aim of this paper is to present a study that explores and contrast the relationship between “soft investments” in lean firms and “soft investments” in traditional firms, by set of hypotheses tests. The hypotheses examine the existing relationship between the two components that conceptualise leanness (managerial commitment towards lean production and real changes made towards the lean direction) and the soft investment, which is assumed to be an infrastructural factor associated with these two components. Data, both quantitative and qualitative, were collected through a survey in conjunction with short structured interviews and planned visits to manufacturing sites of the ceramic industry of North Staffordshire. Two questionnaires were administered at two different levels of the organisation: one to the CEO or general managers and the other to the operations managers with the objective of evaluating the relationship between soft investment and the implementation of lean production. More than 30 firms in the tableware industry of the UK completed the questionnaires. The information collected allowed an analysis of the given hypotheses and the results and conclusions of the study shown that organisations that use lean manufacturing invest significantly more in training the labour force than those that do not